Knickerbocker presents a period thriller rife with riots and bloodshed, spies and assassins, where no one is really what they seem to be.
Between the coups and counter-coups and an international cast of spies, counterspies and ex-Nazis, mid-20th century Argentina is certainly fertile ground for a thriller. It can also make for a rather complicated affair. That’s both the strength and the weakness of the new novel from Knickerbocker (That Moment of Moments, 2006). Set at the tail end of the first reign of President Juan Perón, the tale centers around Kurt-Gustaf von Arnheim, a former SS operative now employed by the CIA, and Angela Abruzzi, a mobbed-up Agency fixer. The two commingle with the Argentine army’s Moral Authority head, Lt. Col. Enrico Frieberg, and his smitten American paramour, Peggy Baldwin. Von Arnheim has been tasked with taking out the president, and in his way are a duplicitous, spiteful M.A. plant named Elisa (who is also a terrorist) and the Federal Police, led by a persistent Inspector Desaix. As suspected, the parties will unavoidably collide. To his credit, Knickerbocker creates a compelling cast; unfortunately few of the characters get to rise above cliché; even their attire is described with well-worn phrases (i.e., the black dress “that left nothing to the imagination”). Saving them is the fact that many of the characters do much as expected before veering from their normal courses in compelling twists. The period riots and bloodshed also add weight to the story, as does Von Arnheim’s inextricable link to—and knowledge of—the land. Of course facts alone aren’t enough to make great fiction; otherwise the novelist would be out of work.
With a little less cliché and a better grip on his characters’ trajectories, Knickerbocker could ride his vivid sense of time and place into the big leagues with extraordinary gentlemen like Daniel Silva and John le Carré.